YABRR: Bandera 2020 Edition
AKA: "We are all each other's heroes"
Standard disclaimer, anything below the line is fluff, here is the important stuff.
Thank you to Jason, who would a few words started dragging me out of a hole that I was just getting ready to head down, and the best thing: he had no idea when he said it how important it would become. Thanks to Shellene (as always) for a wonderful trip to Bandera, especially since she drove not only through Dallas, but the storm that hit once we got to the park. Thanks to the rest of DDR, for being there in spirit.
This year Bandera was back where it belongs, and while it was nice that Camp Eagle was able to step up on host last year, there is nothing like Bandera for a perfect mix of rocks, Sotol, climbs and speedways to run. To top it off, they have a new medal (that can be worn as a buckle). We drove down Friday afternoon, and got to the Hill Country Natural Area just as the sky opened up. Fortunately it was nowhere near as bad a storm as the Metroplex went though. Got the trailer parked, and took care of check-in, with plenty of time to relax and make sure all the gear was set for the race. This was my fourth time running Bandera (including Camp Eagle version) and Shellene's first. We knew that the weather was going to be cool to cold, but had no idea how badly the Friday night storm was going to affect the trail - especially on the Prairie loop. In the end, there was a few puddles, a little mud (heading to YaYa) and some really nice tacky sections (what the mountain bikers like to refer to as "hero dirt"), perfect race conditions.
I don't have a love/hate relationship with Bandera, but it is a complicated one. I have never had a race here where something didn't go bad, usually a groin muscle injury, and I always manage at least one fall. I didn't need a sub-17 at Bandera (I will WS qual at UTMB!!), and had no idea what my legs were going to give me. I'm a little beat up from a hard recovery program post surgery (something about 100 mile less than two weeks ago), but mentally I thought I was in a good place, so I figured I'd aim for 16:30 (just enjoy the day). At the start I saw most of the DDR/DARC runners that I expected to see: Jason, John, Ben, Rachel and Dale.
This year they changed the course and had the 100k runners race the 50k loop. While it was nice to front load some hills, it was sad not being able to see the leaders come flying down Sky Island. It was a bit crowded early on, but when we hit the first climb I was able to start passing runners (who weren't running) and caught up to Jason. During the first few rocky descents I managed to slide my right ankle down a rock, and then a little later bounce a rock into the same spot (currently that ankle is rather annoyed with me, and missing some flesh). The trail is trying to kill me. Jason and I ran within earshot (much to his chagrin) for the first nine miles, and after Equestrian I told him I was going to back off. He commented that I was running well, and I might just surprise myself (key words there). At this point my groin muscle was letting me know that it was having none of this, and I switched to a walk - mentally I was in a nice low spot and thinking that maybe it would be best to head back to the trailer. I kept hearing Jason's words, and thinking that DNF was not the surprise he meant, and kept moving. I decided to pull out the poles and see if I could use them. About 30 minutes later I was running, and looking forward to the Three Sisters. While that muscle never really stopped complaining I just stopped listening.
Shortly before the Prairie loop I started running with a lady who is working on running all 50 states (marathon or greater) distance, Bandera was her Texas race. We ran from there to YaYa, where she met her crew where she did a shoe change and then shortly after leaving she commented that she had something in her sock, but was going to ignore it. I looked over and said "Fix it, two minutes spent now will save you 30 later on", so we stopped briefly. We finished the first loop in 6:25. This was a little slower than my best effort out there, and I spent about 5 minutes adding stuff (lights) to my vest. At this point I figured I'd have my normal 2 hour drop-off between the two loops, and get a 15 hour finish.
Was running along the first ridge line when I found a nice rock to trip on, once again the trail was trying to kill me, and managed to execute a perfect shoulder roll. Sat there for a minute making sure I didn't lose anything, other than my dignity, and off I went. Shortly after leaving Boyles aid station I ran into a couple of runners (who weren't running) from Wisconsin and had a nice enjoyable hike up and down Sky Island. It looked like they were settling in for that pace, so I left them and started running again. At this point, I was starting to think that 14:30 was actually doable, legs were good, nutrition was good and my spirits were high.
Running though the Sisters section I managed to brush my hand against some Sotol - the trail is trying to kill me. Actually, the Sotol wasn't nearly as bad as it has been in the past, some sections had obviously been cut, and what was left was more supple than normal - so it gave instead of ripped when I ran though it. The rocks were more numerous though, to make up for it, and nice and loose as well. All in all, I'd rather have more Sotol and less rocks.
On the second loop I had my aid station plan dialed in. I handed off my water bottle to be filled (thank you volunteer), slammed a soft cup of Coke, followed by a cup of Tailwind, then mix the cup 50/50 Tailwind and water, put my bottle in my vest, grab two cheese quesadilla sections and walk out. At Nachos I stopped and put on my headlamp as well. The folks at Chappas were surprised at how smoothly I was moving through their aid station. I was feeling real good about my race.
I hit the Prairie loop for the second time, and was able to hold a reasonable (for me) pace through it, stopping at YaYa just long enough to get my cold weather gear on, I knew I'd be slowing for the final stretch. When I left YaYa I thought if I didn't die on the last descent (the climb wasn't going to bother me), I might make 14:15. As I moved through the final section I re-stowed my cold gear, making sure I knew exactly where each piece was in case I needed it. Shortly before Lucky's Peak I stopped and got out my poles (I didn't use them on my first loop through), and got passed by three runners. As we hit the climb, I showed them that Orwell was right: "Four legs good, two legs bad.” as I powered through the climb. They returned the favor by showing me that descending is the key to that hill (and I was still very tentative on it, even with the poles), and I had no answer. As I came into sight of the finish line I looked at my watch, and sprinted.
13:55:38, almost an hour better than my best at Bandera, and within 10 minutes of my 100k PR (set on a much easier course). As Jason said, I might just surprise myself.
As I was heading back to the trailer, I heard someone calling my name and all I could think about was Shellene. She had started this race with her foot in an ankle brace (thanks IdB), and I was afraid that they had my name flagged since she was in medical (I was unable to check her status on the tablets, I didn't have my glasses with me). Nope, it was good news. I was 4th fastest 50+, so I got first in my age group (the other three swept the Masters podium), again (happened in '18 as well). The third place Masters runner was one of the three who passed me at the end. I got cleaned up, checked to see that Shellene was still running, and guessed she'd have a 21 hour race, and took a nap. After a couple of hours of tossing, turning, screaming in pain (on the inside) I got up and hung out at the warming tent. Was talking with Jason, and in walks Christoph all bundled up. He had a good race as well (and has a story to tell, but it's his to tell, not mine). I also got to see Dale finish. Sadly, I was back asleep in the trailer when Shellene finished. That was the plan all along, so it would have my fresh enough to drive home. We actually team drove home, since I didn't get nearly the sleep that I needed.
As I said, all the important stuff is above the fold.
"You just might surprise yourself"
Thanks Jason, I did.